Mariko Yamada’s living room doubles as her campaign headquarters. There are calendars, refreshments, and signs lying around that read “Mariko Yamada for State Senate.” As Election Day nears, Yamada is still head-to-head with her opponent Bill Dodd, as both of them run to be elected into the California State Senate 3rd District.
Though both candidates are part of the Democratic party, Yamada believes her roots extend deeper than Dodd’s, who used to be a Republican. Her experience as a professional social worker influenced her to get involved in political activity — she served on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors for nine years and was a member of the California State Assembly from 2008 to 2014.
Yamada’s passion for social work sparks from personal experience.
“My family was one of the families that were interned during World War II in the Japanese internment camps,” she told me. “Everything that my family went through, I became a part of as the inheritance of that social injustice. So I grew up with a very strong commitment to social justice.”
Social justice is just one of the platforms Yamada is running on, in addition to income inequality, college debt, and environmental concerns.
As she explains, “Climate change is the existential threat of our generation that affects everything, like our water supply and ability to grow food. It affects ocean acidification as well as sea level rise. We’re almost out of time to put a halt on what we’ve done to the environment.”
After taking care of her mother for 23 years, Yamada has also included elder care as a major component of her campaign.
“20% of California is going to be 65 years of age or over in less than 20 years… It will be a very dramatic demographic shift, and it’s going to impact all generations. We already see how issues like the retirement system are now burdening young people. Their futures have been affected by the dynamics of the baby boomer generation.”
It’s issues like these that have a great impact on young people — and they might not even know it. Between the gossip and scandals of this year’s presidential election, it can be easy to pay less attention to local politics. But voting in local elections is equally as important as voting in the presidential election.
“It’s important for everyone to engage at all levels of government. But the reach to get your needs articulated or met is not as far with local government. We’re a little bit closer to the people,” Yamada described. “And for students, who is representing you in the Assembly and the Senate is very important for budget deliberations.”
Mental health is a relatable issue for people of all generations and backgrounds, and it is another issue Yamada finds significant.
“Mental health is an afterthought of health discussion. We see it playing out with veterans killing themselves. We see mental health issues in the college population, and in LGBT youth where there are enhanced rates of suicide. We need to make sure that people who need access to mental health services are not afraid to do so because of the stigma associated with it.”
I asked Yamada if she’s ever experienced any sort of prejudice in her profession.
“Whatever situations may have arisen, I think I was able to manage or turn around because I had such strong male and female mentors and role models,” she responded, adding: “I don’t back down.”
In terms of being a female in a historically patriarchal field, she stated: “Someone has to start. Sometimes when you’re written about, it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re the first woman, or you’re the first Asian-American, or the first whatever you are.’ That does carry significance and requires certain levels of responsibility. But the goal is to not be the last.”
Mariko Yamada is running for California State Senate 3rd District, and will be on the Yolo County ballot this Election Day, November 8th. If you have not yet registered to vote, or are looking to change the county in which you vote for, the deadline to do so is October 24th.
If you are interested in supporting Mariko Yamada’s campaign or getting more insight on her stances, you can visit her website here for more information.